Life Is a Wild River

Life Is a Wild River

Cultural Institutions Threatened

I always joke that when I am old the pension scheme will have broken down and I will not get one penny back. To be honest: this is only half meant as a joke. I can really imagine that systems are able to change suddenly in a fundamental way. Perhaps this is due to being grown up in Berlin and making the mind-blowing experience that the wall came down literally in one night (what was of course a good thing to happen). This stony entity which was so much a self-evident part of my life like Barbie dolls, winter and summer or school. Since then I have been deeply convinced that the wild river called life has the power to sweep away everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything.

So, why then I was so surprised and deeply shocked when I read yesterday in the newspaper that the public reading belonging to the most important literature competition of the German speaking world, the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Competition in Austria, is in danger? The Austrian broadcaster ORF thinks about withdrawing its financial support as its budget was cut. One reason for being shocked is that a pattern begins to show. Last week I did hardly believe my eyes when I read that the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam should be closed* and only two weeks ago I listened aghast to the news that the Greek state broadcasting ERT had been shut down overnight. Cutbacks in the cultural sector are not novel but that even institutions which seem to be such a matter of course and almost sacrosant are in danger diverts the development in a new direction.

Of course, if I would be in charge of the budgets and would have to decide if to, for example, build a new hospital or a new museum, sorry, but I would probably build the hospital. If you have to justify to invest in saving people’s life or to show interesting and pretty things and to educate, which choice do you have? I am sure that there exist already studies about how the immune system can be strengthened by museum visits and without any doubt doctors have been children being taught. But the point is: how to explain the necessity of beauty?
Radio – if not the Greek one –, the Tropenmuseum and the Austrian Literature Competition are important landmarks on my individual life’s landscape. Listening to Deutschlandradio frames my everyday life. The public reading of the competition marks the horizon for my friends’ and mine literary ambitions. And the Tropenmuseum influenced my decision to work in the museum field as its reconstructions of local environments like an Indian kiosk was a revelation for me. It is difficult to define the common denominator of all these cultural institutions but if I would try I would name inspiration as their biggest impact on my life and life course.
As a student I worked for the Iwalewa-Haus, a museum for African art in Bayreuth. The director had created one very special room, the “blue room”. Its walls were covered completely by Indigo textiles and besides one stool the room was empty. I sat often in this room enjoying the sheer beauty and calm atmosphere and I know one musician who came there to compose. When the new director assumed office he removed the cloth, renovated the room and used it for special exhibitions. I could comprehend this totally and perhaps I would have done the same. But how could I explain to him that he destroyed a space – let’s become pathetic – where my soul could rest and I gathered inspiration and strength.
No cultural institution, I think, is as a last consequence necessary. But it is needed.
 *Due to a petition the biggest danger is averted.   


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